On Saturday night, No. 3 Michigan faced No. 1 Minnesota State in the Ice Breaker Championship. The top-three matchup was a tight competition between two of the nation’s best.
Sophomore forward Brendan Brisson has been a goalscoring machine this season, and tonight he tallied his fifth goal of the season, becoming the hero in an epic 3-2 comeback victory for the Wolverines (4-0-0 overall) over the Mavericks (4-2-0).
The highly-anticipated matchup got off to an underwhelming start, with both teams feeling each other out. Both were reluctant to make mistakes and give their talented opponent an edge, and the beginning was reminiscent of the first period in last night’s win against No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth. Shortly after the intermission, though, the narrative changed.
Just 54 seconds into the period, Michigan struck on the power play. Freshman defenseman Luke Hughes was situated on the right circle and kept looking for shooting chances. He handled the puck and instead of firing one on net, he played a drop pass to senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg. The captain ripped a one-timer that put Michigan up 1-0.
“This is a big weekend for us to learn what we need to work on, what we’re good at,” Blankenburg said. “We got to have better starts, we’ll just continue to work from there.”
But, five minutes later, the Mavericks evened it up. A defensive breakdown allowed for forward Julian Napravnik to face sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo alone. He roofed a near-side shot and leveled the game. The Mavericks kept their foot on the gas and outplayed the Wolverines during the second period. With only 49 seconds remaining until the intermission, Minnesota State struck again. While on the power play, Portillo let up a big rebound and the defense was not home to bail its goaltender out.
“In general we just got to be harder on pucks and harder to play against up front,” Blankenburg said. “We’ll have to continue to work on being hard and being tough.”
After taking the lead, Minnesota State looked to be in control. Its physicality overmatched Michigan and with a roster full of veterans, they seemed comfortable. The Wolverines started the third period on the power play but were miserable, failing to generate any good looks. Despite a slow start, Michigan remained poised and four minutes later, they had another chance to score.
Sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau won a battle down low and played the puck back to sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott. Truscott put a puck on net and a driving Bordeleau redirected it in.
“We just stayed positive,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We’re only one shot away. Obviously, goals were hard to come by…we just talked about trying to get pucks behind them.”
The third period played host to two highlight-reel saves. The first came from Maverick goaltender Ryder McKay. Sophomore forward Kent Johnson found himself wide open with a backdoor opportunity. He took a wrist shot and McKay made an acrobatic, cross-crease glove save, robbing Johnson of a score.
On the other end of the ice, Portillo also wanted to make his presence felt. In a tie game with under 10 minutes to go, Portillo almost gave it away. He was caught out of the net and after a careless turnover, he was forced to fly back in front of the net and stop the shot to keep the Wolverines alive.
Later on, Bordeleau drove in down the left wing in a three-on-three situation. He rifled a pass through traffic to his linemate Brisson. Brisson found the pass and wasted no time putting a one-timer past McKay.
“A lot of the guys in the locker room call (Brisson) Ovi Jr., just because he has such a good one-timer,” Blankenburg said. “He’s a gamer, he shows up in big-time games and same with Bordeleau.”
Blankenburg took a bad cross-checking penalty with a little over two minutes left in the game, allowing Minnesota State to set up on a power play and empty its net. Portillo was sprawling and diving all around the crease, doing whatever he could to preserve the lead. The Wolverines faced a barrage of shots but were ultimately able to hang onto the lead.
He and the rest of Michigan’s penalty kill were successful. The Wolverines took home the Ice Breaker Championship and will now regroup for next weekend’s test versus Western Michigan. After taking down No. 1 Minnesota State and No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth in one weekend, Michigan figures to claim the top spot in the next rankings — for now.